A few men in stiff white gis wait outside the second floor practice room of the Waldorf ballet studio on Wharf Avenue in Sechelt. The room is airy and well lit and the sprung floor makes it easier on the athletes. “It’s not hard on our joints,” said Wade Meisinger.
It’s Monday evening and ballet class is almost over. Soon Meisinger – the new sensei of Sunshine Coast Shotokan Karate – will bring another kind of choreography to the space.
Meisinger, 49, began practising Shotokan, a popular style founded by Gichin Funakoshi at the turn of the 20th century, when he was 14 years old, and for 36 years has trained in different styles.
Happenstance brought him back to the Shotokan style. When speaking with a friend about his martial arts history, they made the Shotokan connection. “We started talking one day that we all took Shotokan karate when we were younger and we thought, wow, that would be something great to start again,” he said.
Meisinger’s friend turned out to be the daughter of Shotokan black belts Cherry and Armando Bolognese, and their daughter’s interest sparked Cherry to approach the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF) for permission to teach.
The club, which has a membership of about 20, has been operating for approximately eight years, with members consistently earning medals at provincial tournaments. Over those years and through Cherry’s instruction, Meisinger worked his way from orange belt to black and began to assist with lessons as Cherry, 64, faced medical challenges. “Her knowledge of karate was incredible. Her body was what was failing her,” Meisinger said.
In August, Cherry was forced to retire under her physician’s orders. “I had to stop,” said Cherry of the difficult decision, which also forced the question about the club’s survival.
“Once she realized she couldn’t do it anymore, then she approached us and said, here’s where we’re at. You guys need to step in and take over, or we’ll shut it down,” Meisinger said. And so he took up the challenge with the help of students Michael Sherman and Laurent Wiese, who act as treasurer and administrator, respectively.
‘This is a martial art tradition,” said Cherry of the club’s leadership transition. “It was passed down through family. And now it’s in that kind of Japanese tradition, from sensei to student.”
One of Cherry’s last acts as sensei was to secure the new dojo at the Waldorf ballet studio. They have been practising there since September. Before that, the club was training at West Sechelt Elementary School and at St. Hilda’s Anglican Church in Sechelt.
As the new instructor, Meisinger said his primary goal isn’t to increase membership or to train to win medals at the upcoming provincial tournament this spring. Instead, he intends to focus on Shotokan’s roots. “We’re not about fighting. We’re not about hurting anyone or causing damage. We’re about growing as a person, growing as a club,” he said.
As ballet class wound down, and a couple of the karate club’s younger members arrived to train, treasurer Michael Sherman expressed his own hopes for the club. “It’s a phoenix situation. We’re rising from the embers – not the ashes – of the old school.”